Commentary: An open letter to the citizens of Dover and its environs

By Peter Oldziey

Dear sisters and brothers,

Our hearts are grieved as we contemplate the death of George Floyd and the suffering and deaths of other Americans of African descent (Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others). We are moved to offer the following thoughts and to reach out to connect and associate with the members of our human family in Dover.

The deaths of these individuals, as well as the deaths and suffering of countless others, has brought our nation to a tipping point. The indignation and distress being felt in every quarter of America – and, indeed, in a host of other nations – is, however, an outcome of more than just this one death, appalling as it was. It is an expression of deep-rooted weariness and frustration with the fact that, despite the earnest struggle of generations to overcome it, racism remains a defining element of our society.

The future of our city and of our nation demands that we urgently address the long-standing, deeply ingrained racial prejudice besetting our society. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States recently addressed our community:

“The tensions, divisions and injustices that currently beset America are symptoms of a long-standing illness. The nation is afflicted with a deep spiritual disorder, manifest in rampant materialism, widespread moral decay and a deeply ingrained racial prejudice. As a result, millions of our fellow Americans, subject to systemic injustices in many facets of life, are prevented from making their full contributions to society and of partaking fully in its benefits. No one is immune to this disorder – we are all members of this society and to some degree suffer the effects of its maladies. That we live in a critical time can be seen in the way essential questions of identity, social vision and global relations are being raised to a degree not seen in decades. Increasing numbers of our fellow citizens are actively in search of solutions both moral and practical to answer them.

“The resolution to these challenges lies in recognizing and embracing the truth at the heart of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, the incontrovertible truth that humanity is one. Ignorance of this truth – which embodies the very spirit of the age – is itself a form of oppression, for without it, it is impossible to build a truly just and peaceful world.”

The oppression caused by the spiritual disorder described above is keeping individuals of African descent from being able to realize the potential within them. Not only is this an injustice to these individuals, but our society itself is denied its wholeness as a result. Maintaining the oppression of racial prejudice ultimately disables the development of the entire social order.

At this critical juncture in the history of our community and our nation, we fundamentally assert that the only viable path forward is through a shared conviction of the oneness of humanity. Theories, beliefs or policies that seek to divide and create a sense of otherness will ultimately lead to the demise of our society. The National Spiritual Assembly writes:

“The oneness of humanity is far more than a slogan or an abstract and unattainable ideal. It has profound implications for both personal behavior and for the way society is organized – challenging many current assumptions and revolutionizing our conceptions of the relationships that should exist between the individual, society and its institutions. Awareness of the spiritual reality of human beings carries with it the moral requirement that all be given every opportunity to fulfill their potential and to contribute to the advancement of civilization.

“ … The evils of racism, materialism and moral decadence will be eradicated only by a love that is translated into action – such actions as deliberately going out of our way to befriend all, appreciating the indispensable contributions of all and joining hands with all in the creation of a new world. We believe in the fundamental goodness and decency of the masses of our fellow citizens. We are confident that Americans yearn as we do for spirituality, that they desire genuine justice and prosperity for everyone.”

We fully realize that moving along the path traced by the conviction that we are fundamentally “one” is extremely challenging. But it is vital to move forward and act. One way is to provide opportunities for authentic, honest and meaningful discourse, where not only can the deep suffering of oppression be expressed and “heard,” but also concrete and unified action be taken to allow our community to truly heal and move forward.

May we humbly suggest that numerous individuals and organizations provide such opportunities. Imagine a community filled with genuine communication from the heart! We would love to join in any spaces offered for this purpose.

Besides being active participants in this discourse, the Baha’i community would like to offer the following to this work:

• A regular virtual space for prayer (all kinds), devotion and meaningful conversation for the healing and unity of our human family Thursday evenings at 7:30.

• Formal “study circles” for personal transformation and spiritual empowerment, titled “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit.”

To participate, please send an email to doverlsa@gmail.com.

We offer these suggestions with great humility. We are a small community. Yet, we firmly believe that if we all enter this arena together, rooted in the incontrovertible truth of the oneness of humanity, with openness of heart and mind, we will be able to crush this mountain of oppression.

With love and hope,

Peter Oldziey and The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is are of Dover.